On Tuesday, protesters interrupted the Amazon Web Services (AWS) summit keynote at the Javits Center in Manhattan to draw attention to government contracts and Amazon’s surveillance tools.
Activists from New York Communities for Change (NYCC), Make the Road NY, MediaJustice, MPower Change, Action Center on Race and the Economy (ACRE), and Immigrant Defense Project (IDP) have come together to form the #NoTechForApartheid campaign, as well such as Mijente’s #NoTechforICE campaign which focused on AWS contracts that fuel ICE’s surveillance, terror and deportation of migrants in the United States.
The #NoTechForApartheid campaign has set its sights on Project Nimbus, a $1.2 billion cloud computing contract won by AWS and Google to shore up Israel’s government and military computing infrastructure within its borders. Observers fear the draft will shield the Israeli military from backlash resulting from the ongoing occupation of Palestine.
“Amazon Web Services: Stop profiting from violence around the world. Your platform fuels racist policing, mass deportations and war – all of which lead to the devastation of black and brown communities,” said Aly Panjwani, senior research analyst at the Center for Action on Race and the Economy. , during the opening speech. In videos shared with Motherboard, a crowd of AWS customers, contractors, and employees were at times hostile and not only booed as Panjwani and others spoke, but cheered as security held down and carried speakers out of the way. the room.
This isn’t the first AWS conference disrupted by protesters trying to draw attention to its unethical contracts. In 2019, protesters did the same as they tried to raise awareness that Amazon served as the backbone of ICE and helped fuel its eviction machine.
“As the Israeli military shelled homes, clinics and schools in Gaza and threatened to evict Palestinian families from their homes in Jerusalem in May 2021, Amazon Web Services and Google Cloud executives signed a contract to $1.22 billion to provide cloud technology to the Israeli government and military,” reads the #NoTechForApartheid website. “By doing business with Israeli apartheid, Amazon and Google will enable the Israeli government to more easily monitor the Palestinians and force them to leave their land.
Over the years, AWS has worked enthusiastically with governments and corporations around the world to profit from the misery and violence they inflict. Despite years of internal and external protests and pressure, Amazon CEO Andy Jassy insisted on expanding AWS offerings to equip police departments with facial surveillance technology, creating an industry of the carbon cloud to help accelerate the extraction and production of fossil fuels and to provide immigration. authorities with surveillance tools to terrorize and deport migrants, to name a few.
“Amazon is investing in securing as many of these contracts as possible because, unfortunately, surveillance and policing always pays off. We’re at a time where the police have really lost their legitimacy with communities of color across the country and the world, haven’t we,” said Mayisha Hayes, director of campaign strategies at MediaJustice. “We are at a time when they are looking for technology to ‘keep our communities safe’. But we know that these technologies actually put us in even more danger by putting us in contact with the police and the military. They are definitely taking advantage of this time when people are looking for “alternatives” or more “informed” or “accurate” policing.
Amazon isn’t alone in providing technology for controversial purposes; Alphabet, which has its own history of worker revolts against military contracts, is also involved in Project Nimbus. In October 2021, an anonymous group of Amazon and Google employees wrote a letter in The Guardian calling on the companies to drop Project Nimbus. In June 2022, a Google shareholder also unsuccessfully offered to withdraw from the contract. In a Common dreams editorial, Ed Feingus, the lead submitter of the proposal wrote, “Google has a choice: instead of allowing human rights abuses, it should promote technology that has a positive impact on the world.” Google can and should be on the right side of history by ending Project Nimbus.
However, it may very well be that the Nimbus project was planned in such a way as to allow a limited time frame to intervene, since these contracts are not only for the construction of unethical surveillance tools, but also for the protection of client governments against political pressure.
The Times of Israel reported that Project Nimbus is designed to protect it from possible boycott actions related to human rights crimes against Palestinians: not only Google and Amazon will not be able to shut down the services once operational, but they will be needed to create local Israeli companies subject to local laws that will be responsible for building and operating the data centers. Beyond that, details about the project are scarce. Reuters said the project will have four phases: acquiring and building cloud infrastructure, planning government policy for data migration to cloud infrastructure, integrating and migrating to the cloud, and monitoring and optimizing cloud operations.
“There is very little transparency, not just for the public but for its own employees. We have spoken to employees at Google and Amazon who have no idea what the project is because it is very secret “, Lau Barrios, campaign manager at MPower Change, co-organizers of the #NoTechForApartheid campaign, told Motherboard. “It’s an intense concern for us because we don’t know where they are in the project, but we do know that they will be building cloud infrastructure for the Israeli government, including agencies like the Israel Lands Authority which is currently facilitating a lot of Palestinian displacement and settlement building in the West Bank.”
“These customers are coming to AWS Summit to experience all the magic and power of Amazon’s technology, but they won’t hear how this technology is being used to deport people, to incarcerate people, to criminalize people. And so we’re here basically to disrupt business as usual and really expose Amazon for the business that it is,” Hayes added.
Amazon did not respond to Motherboard’s request for comment.
Correction: An earlier version of this article incorrectly attributed quotes from #NotTechForApartheid activists. The motherboard regrets the error.